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Disease was a constant problem in Tudor England. Hygiene was not considered as important as it is today, so people got sick much easier, and since medical knowledge was very limited back then, it was much harder to cure a sickness, even something as basic as a cold. There was no set cure for any of the diseases listed on this page, so in most cases people did not recover. Because of the high risk, sickness was the only thing that Henry VIII seemed truly afraid of, and at any sign he would flee. Here are some of the more deadly illnesses that were present during the Tudor Era.
The Sweating Sickness
The sweating sickness was an illness that only occurred during a small period of time, notably the Tudor Era. It usually hit the strong young people, leaving them with pain, fever, and ceaseless sweating. It was almost always deadly, and could kill within a few hours. Anne Boleyn was known to have fallen ill with it in 1528, and although she survived, her brother-in-law William Carey was not so lucky.
The plague is perhaps one of the most famous sicknesses during this time. Like the sweating sickness, it was very deadly, and every few years or so it would sweep through the country in a massive epidemic. It could kill off thousands of Englishmen in only a few weeks, and when it hit London the King and his court would flee to the countryside, which was supposedly healthier. It was said to have been spread by rats, although no one back then knew how sickness occurred and could only hope that it passed you by. The plague died out along with the sweating sickness long ago.
Smallpox is another epidemic that took England by storm. When a person caught smallpox, they got bumps and rashes all over them, and although it was possible to survive it, the patient usually ended up scarred for life. Elizabeth I came down with smallpox very early in her reign, and managed to get away with minor scars, but her friend Mary Sidney, who cared for her during her illness, caught it from her and was scarred so badly she refused to show her face at court again.
Scrofula is a type of skin disease. In Medieval times, it was known as "The King's Evil." A touch from a monarch was supposed to cure the disease, so kings would touch any subject that had the disease. They would also bless special rings to give to scrofula victims, as another cure. This disease was not always deadly, but it affected many people during this time period.
This disease is probably more common today than any of the other diseases on this page. Because of the poor health conditions in the Tudor Era, it was very common, and always deadly. Tuberculosis is when the lungs fill with fluid and begin to deteriorate. It can be spread through air easily, if an infected person coughs. A very serious symptom is when the infected person starts coughing up blood. A few Tudors died of this disease: Edward VI, Henry Fitzroy, and possibly Henry VII.
Unlike the other diseases on this page, puerperal fever was not an epidemic that spread from one person to another. This disease, however, was extremely common in Tudor England. Women often came down with "childbed fever," as it was more commonly called, shortly after having children. It was caused by an infection, and there was no cure for it back then. The woman would have a fever, become delirious, and eventually die. Two famous women who succumbed to this disease were Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr.
As I said above, there was no real cure for any of these diseases, but Tudor doctors tried their hardest to make their patients healthy again. A basic belief in the Tudor Era was that the health of the body relied on keeping a balance of the four "humors" of the body: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. Because of this belief, bleeding was a common "cure" for almost any disease or ailment. This was done by either physically cutting the patient and letting them bleed into a basin, or putting leeches on the patient. Herbal remedies were also very popular, but not very effective.
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